It’s been roughly 2,400 years since the Greek physician Hippocrates (or one of his followers) wrote, in On the Sacred Disease, that “from nothing else but the brain come joys, delights, laughter, and sports,” but also that “by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us.” Today, the scientific community—and, for that matter, much of the general public—knows significantly more than ancient doctors did about the brain’s composition and functions. And yet its inner workings, inconsistencies, and unpredictable effects on our behavior remain sources of considerable mystery. Nothing reflects this state of affairs more than the wealth of forthcoming books on that much-disputed organ.
Rick Kot, an executive editor at Viking who in 2002 published Joseph LeDoux’s landmark Synaptic Self, calls the brain “one of the last great frontiers of research,” and expects it to remain a focus of the health category for years to come. But, he adds, authors must know how to make science relatable in order to reach readers.
Some authors make that personal connection by adopting a narrative approach. In the memoir The Ghost in My Brain (Viking, June), Clark Elliott, an artificial intelligence researcher, describes how he rebounded from the disabling concussion he suffered in a car accident by harnessing neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s capacity to reorganize its structure, functions, and connection.
Melanie Tortoroli, the book’s editor, says, “What appealed to me was this insight into brain damage, coming from a person who had experienced it and who was familiar with the language.” According to Tortoroli, “the science of neuroplasticity and our ability to rewire our brains” has emerged as a hot topic among researchers and authors, but Elliott’s experience gives him a “unique window.” (For more on Elliott, click here.)
Another book combining the personal with the medical is Where Memories Go (Two Roads, May), in which broadcast journalist Sally Magnusson recounts her mother’s experience with dementia. Lisa Highton, the founder and publisher of Two Roads, calls the book a memoir “interspersed with an exploration of what the disease is.”
NeuroTribes (Avery, Aug.), by journalist Steve Silberman, uses not memoir but history to shed light on autism and the growing neurodiversity movement, which calls for embracing cognitive differences. Megan Newman, v-p and publisher at Avery, says Silberman’s explorations into the early days of autism research, including the work of Hans Asperger, help explain some of the debate on the condition today. The book, she says, “looks at the ways that we kind of got mental illness wrong in the early parts of psychiatry in America, and how we’ve continued to get treatment wrong.”
Another title, Healthy Brain, Happy Life (Morrow/Dey Street, May), by neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, with Billie Fitzpatrick, combines a recollection of the author’s midlife health kick with tips on how to use exercise to improve memory, cognition, and mood. Dey Street editorial director Carrie Thornton says that with the rising prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia, “the idea that certain activities can change your body, and your brain, for the better is very appealing.”
The concept that the mind and body operate in tandem drives several health titles due this season.
Whole Body Intelligence (Rodale, Aug.), by stress management expert Steve Sisgold, offers a 30-day program for reducing anxiety by paying greater attention to one’s body in moments of duress. According to Rodale senior editor Ursula Cary Ziemba, “Readers are looking for ways to manage the stress of being constantly overstimulated,” and Sisgold’s book reminds us “that we’ve lost touch with our most reliable guide—our body.”
Other books tackle the brain by way of a very of-the-moment health topic: the microbiome, which is the population of bacteria and other microbes that inhabit the human body. The Mind-Gut Connection (Harper Wave, Nov.), by digestive disease specialist Emeran Mayer, updates the notion that some thoughts and feelings originate in the stomach—also known as, ahem, gut feelings—with research-based insights into microbiomes and the gut’s very real role in our emotional life.
Julie Will, executive editor at Harper Wave, says the microbiome trend is still in its early stages. “We just started to see significant data from the [National Institutes of Health’s] Human Microbiome Project in 2012—and the limited information we have is pretty mind-blowing,” she says. “Imagine what we might know in another 10 years.”
In a similar vein, 10% Human, by science writer Alanna Collen (Harper, May), argues, according to the book’s jacket, that many ailments can be traced to the body’s “personal colony of gut microbes,” including mental illness and autism.
In 2000, some 12.9% of the U.S. population was 65 or older; that number is expected to reach 19% by 2030, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And as the population ages, diseases like Alzheimer’s remain a primary concern, which several titles this season seek to address.
The Alzheimer’s Prevention & Treatment Diet (Square One, June), by Alzheimer’s expert Richard S. Isaacson and nutrition researcher Christopher M. Ochner, lays out a wellness program tailored to sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease and those seeking to prevent its onset. Fight Alzheimer’s with Vitamins and Antioxidants (Healing Arts, June), by Kedar N. Prasad, a nutrition and radiology researcher, focuses on the role of specific nutrients. And The Modified Keto Cookbook (Demos, Sept.), by blogger Dawn Martenz, with clinical nutritionist Beth Zupec-Kania, delivers recipes that hew to the ketogenic diet (high-fat, low-carbohydrate), which, according to the publisher, has been shown to benefit sufferers of dementia.
The prevalence of Alzheimer’s and other aging-related brain conditions motivates many people to take charge of their brain health early. Keep Your Brain Stronger for Longer (The Experiment, June), by Alzheimer’s researcher Tonia Vojtkofsky, lays out brain exercises designed for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Vojtkofsky describes MCI as “cognitive decline that is greater than normal age-related decline” and “a large risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”
Other forthcoming books that prescribe programs for improving brain health include Boost Your Brain Power in 60 Seconds (Rodale, Sept.), by nutritionist Michelle Schoffro Cook, and Staying Sharp (Touchstone, Sept.), by psychiatrist Henry Emmons and psychologist David Alter.
Stress—its origins, effects, and even possible benefits—lies at the center of several forthcoming health books.
In Anxious (Viking, July), Synaptic Self author Joseph LeDoux argues that anxiety disorders, rather than being “innate states,” are “experiences that we assemble cognitively,” according to the jacket. Executive editor Rick Kot says the book will appeal to both general readers who are curious about the brain and sufferers of anxiety looking for answers. “It’s hardcore science, certainly, but the ramifications for actual treatment are there.”
The Upside of Stress (Avery, May), by Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist and the author of 2011’s The Willpower Instinct, which sold 54K units in hardcover and paperback according to Nielsen BookScan, lays out a guide to embracing stress as an indication of passion, and harnessing it to boost happiness and intelligence. Avery’s Megan Newman, who edited the book, says she is drawn to health titles that take “a philosophical look at the human condition and aren’t thrashing around to find another diagnostic label. I think the crime of modern psychiatry has been turning away from the humanistic approach.”
Other forthcoming books addressing stress include The Stress Cure, by health experts Patrick Holford and Susannah Lawson (Piatkus, Aug.), and Get Your Life Back, by stress management consultant Mary Heath (Findhorn, Sept.).
Let’s Talk About Me
While this season’s brain-focused books pursue topics as diverse as neuroplasticity and gastrointestinal health, traditional psychology maintains a strong presence.
In Rethinking Narcissism (Harper Wave, July), psychologist Craig Malkin offers a contrarian view of self-absorption—namely, that it’s not so bad—and “debunks the pop science notion that our culture is suffering from an epidemic of narcissism,” according to executive editor Julie Will.
I’m Working on It in Therapy, by psychotherapist Gary Trosclair (Skyhorse, June), aims to “put the power in the hands of the client,” according to associate publisher of Abigail Gehring. “It’s the only book I’m aware of that’s written specifically for the client, and that describes how you can take an active role in the psychotherapy process.”
Daniel Lefferts is a writer living in New York.
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